Running Your Business

Attending a Conference for the First Time? Here’s How to Make the Most of It


  • Prepare for first-time conferences by doing online research. Learn how people typically dress, what panels to attend and who you should network with during the event

  • Bring business cards, tools to take notes during the event and a snack in case you get hungry

  • Don't skip out on any events or networking opportunities while you're at the conference, regardless of how over-stimulating the event is

Posted by May 17, 2019

So you’re attending a conference for the first time, and you’re equally excited and nervous at the sheer idea of it all. You’re also filled with questions, like what should you wear or bring with you? Or how can you take good enough notes to share with your coworkers when you get back?

Rest easy, because what you’re feeling is completely normal. In fact, even the most experienced conferencegoers experience a bit of anxiety before attending these big events. If you’re open to all experiences and are kind to everyone you meet, you’re bound to have a good time.

But to make sure you’re truly prepared for attending a conference for the first time, here are four helpful tips as well as expert guidance from communication consultant Carrie Sharpe.

1. Lay the Groundwork for Success

You’ve bought your conference ticket, and now it’s time to do a bit of online sleuthing in order to answer some of the questions you have about attending. Start by perusing the event website and social media accounts. As long as this isn’t the first year they’re offering the conference, you can likely find pictures of previous events. So if you’re worried about what to wear, use these photos as inspiration.

Sharpe adds, “Check out the itinerary and research the speakers so you attend the best sessions for you. Find out who else will be in attendance, and strategize who you need to talk to while you’re there.”

Sharpe continues, “Get active in the Facebook group or use a hashtag on Twitter for the event—if there is one. This is an easy way to get to know other attendees before the conference and learn more about the event itself.”

2. Bring the Essentials With You

Because networking is so important—even if you’re attending a conference for the first time—it’s important to have business cards on hand to share with new connections.

Sharpe adds, “Bring plenty of paper and pens to take notes on everything you learn. You’ll want to reference those notes in the weeks following the conference.” If you’re a quick typer, a tablet or laptop will work just as well, but consider whether you’ll want to carry these heavy tools around with you all day.

Sharpe also suggests this practical tip: “Bring snacks. That may sound silly, especially if food is provided, but there may be times when you’ve gone too long between meals. No one wants to feel ‘hangry’ at a conference. Stay on top of your game by fueling up, especially with healthy snacks!”

3. Get the Most From Conferences

Depending on the event, you’re either going to jump right into either learning or networking mode. If networking is encouraged, come out of your shell and get to know as many other attendees as possible.

Sharpe says, “Be open to all the possibilities, like people you may be able to partner with later, connections you can set up and support you can give to others.” You might even find someone else who is attending for the first time—hello, new support buddy.

If learning comes first, be revved up to take notes. Many conferences are known to be overstimulating, as they offer many opportunities for growth: panels, workshops, lectures, speakers and more. You’ll want to return to work as informed as possible, so attend as many as you can.

Sharpe agrees, adding: “Fight the urge to hide out in your room or rest during the breaks and networking time. Instead, utilize those opportunities to learn more about the other attendees and speakers.” Remember, you can sleep when you get home!

4. Share Learnings With Your Colleagues

When the conference is over, you might need a day or two to adjust back into your normal schedule, and that’s OK. But once you’re back at work, take time to review the notes you took during the conference. Sharpe advises summarizing your notes on three (or fewer) typed pages. Afterward, you’ll be much more prepared to share what you learned with your superiors and colleagues.

After attending a conference for the first time, you should also be prepared to make a few recommendations based on what you learned. Because while relaying the information is important, you were sent for a reason—your company values your thoughts and opinions, so translate what you absorbed into actionable suggestions.

And don’t forget about all the connections you made at the conference. Sharpe encourages staying in touch: “Building relationships takes time, but those relationships can lead to powerful partnerships, referrals and collaborations later.”

Searching for resources that could help improve your organization’s workplace? Check out the tools and information offered on United Concordia Dental’s website.

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